Business Maverick

ANALYSIS

Another day, another mining cadastre procurement delay

Another day, another mining cadastre procurement delay
Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe at the African Mining Indaba in Cape Town on 7 February 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

The goalposts for the request for proposals for a customised cadastral system by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy have shifted again – this time by a fortnight. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is the latest delay in a process urgently needed to shine the light of transparency on South Africa’s mining sector.

The procurement process for an off-the-shelf cadastre system by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) remains “under way”, the South African public has been assured a number of times of late, including most recently by President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

It’s just hit yet another speed bump on the road to completion.

But the problem with too many speed bumps is that they eventually start to morph into something else: a crater-sized pothole that will swallow anything that tries to go through it.

A proper mining cadastre – like those now in use by Botswana, Namibia and Zambia – allows the public easy online access to the state of play of mining rights and known mineral resources in a country.

Companies can see what mining rights are available to apply for and who holds existing rights and for how long. They can then use the system to easily apply for mining, prospecting or exploration permits, and that kind of thing.

Read more in Daily Maverick: After the Bell: Botswana transparently displays what SA’s DMRE may reluctantly provide” and “Botswana’s mining cadastre reveals hydrocarbon scramble in iconic Kalahari game reserve

In short, it brings badly needed transparency to the state of play of mining in a country, and South Africa has been a laggard on this front – its Samrad system is so dysfunctional that the backlog in applications for various mining rights and permits or transfer of rights stood at more than 5,000 two years ago. Over the past 18 months, the logjam has been reduced by 42%.

Mantashe’s pledge, another delay

In his Sona debate speech on 14 February – two weeks ago – DMRE Minister Gwede Mantashe made a firm pledge that the tender for a functional cadastral system to replace the department’s useless Samrad system for processing mining rights applications would be out within two weeks. 

“The procurement of a customised cadastral system is under way. In this regard, a request for proposal will be issued by no later than the end of this month, February 2023,” Mantashe said. That would have been at close of business on Tuesday.

Anyone who has been following this saga would have taken this timeline with a pinch of salt, and, lo and behold, the process has once again been delayed, this time for two weeks.

“The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is working closely with the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) to conclude the procurement process of the Cadastral system in the shortest possible time,” the DMRE said in an emailed response to Business Maverick queries on the matter.

“The department has since developed the bid specification and handed it to Sita. Sita is finalising the bid publication process which entails quality assurance of the bid specification, the terms of reference and internal governance processes. 

“This has necessitated a shift in the deadline for the release of the bid to the market from the end of February 2023 to mid March 2023.”

Pattern of unreliability

So, on the one hand, fair enough, glitches happen and it seems the process is well under way.

But on the other hand, there is a pattern of unreliability at play here. 

Surely the minister must have known two weeks ago that the finalisation of the bid process would take at least two weeks longer than the date that was pledged? Presumably, the DMRE and Sita communicate with each other. Having said that, the two have pointed fingers at each other before over this process.

Years have already been squandered as the DMRE tried to tender for a made-to-order system that would have involved reinventing the wheel, raising suspicions that it was not so interested in the transparency that the off-the-shelf cadastre favoured by the industry would bring.

That attempt eventually collapsed last year after Sita flagged auditors’ concerns about the process. The DMRE, for its part, had been blaming Sita for the unfolding mess, and the whole thing went back to the drawing board.

Subsequent pledges to procure a cadastre by the end of the 2022/23 financial year have also rung hollow. 

Another year’s delay — at least

And now we sit – almost a year after the previous attempt was ditched – and mining analysts reckon it will take at least a year before a functional cadastre is up and running. That’s if the mid-March deadline is reached. 

It will be of more than passing interest to see how Sita evaluates the bid specifications that have been handed to it, and if the request for proposals does indeed go out by the middle of March.

The DMRE said late last year that it was “benchmarking similar systems in countries that have successfully implemented a cadastral”, notably Botswana and Namibia. Both countries use an off-the-shelf system provided by Colorado-based Trimble.

In 2015, Trimble acquired Spatial Dimension. Founded in Cape Town in 1999 – and thus proudly South African – this unit has been at the forefront of Trimble’s cadastre offerings and is seen as the gold standard by the mining industry.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

The stakes are high. The train smash that is Samrad is seen as a key obstacle to exploration and other investment in South Africa’s mining sector. 

There are also concerns about the granting of coal rights in ecologically-sensitive areas and to companies that have little mining experience, as my colleague Tony Carnie has recently detailed.

Hluhuluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve threatened by ‘get-rich-quick’ coal prospecting rights 

 

The red flags on this front have been flying for years, and some transparency has pierced the darkness through the mapping initiatives of mining consultancy, AmaranthCX.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Murky new world of South African coal

So we’ll see if the again-delayed tender will finally see the light of day in March. The bookies are open; place your bets. DM/BM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Joe Soap says:

    Sounds like the ANC first wanting to make sure they can eat a little before proceeding.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    The bidding process for the new system will be interesting – I watch with interest. As a miner ( and minor) investor it is worrying that our processes are so cumbersome and prohibitive….. what was once a leader in the global mining sector, South Africa has been reduced to “second cousin” status …this has been one of the saddest things to watch. Marikane did not help matters either which leaves CR between a rock and a hard place!

  • andrea96 says:

    The delay is caused by the cadres fighting for positions at the trough.

  • L Dennis says:

    Ill gotten treasures profit NOTHING. Dishonest wealth will dwindle but what is earned through hard work will be multiplied. I will keep on praying for our beautiful country.

    • Daniel Sass says:

      I will just keep on praying that the evil government of the ANC will fall. That God will visit with vengeance the leaders who trample on the poor.

  • Gregory Scott says:

    Agreed Joe

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